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Off The Shelf – March

Alexis Wright - Tracker

Welcome to my column where each month I’ll take a book from the shelf to share.

By Kate Rendell

It’s a review of sorts, but also hopefully a nudge of encouragement, to say go on – there’s a lot great reading out there! 
I kick off this month with Alexis Wright’s new book Tracker. It’s a particularly apt place to start given the book is set almost entirely within the context of the Territory. It’s also the latest offering from an author whose work I love.

Tracker is the life story of charismatic Aboriginal leader and political thinker Tracker Tilmouth – a man familiar to many in the NT – who died in Darwin in 2015. 

Yet this is no ordinary biography, nor could Wright truly be considered the sole author. Rather Tracker is a cumulative ‘collective memoir’ that weaves more than 50 voices together from many years of interviews, including politicians and political heavy weights. 

The book begins, after Wright’s introduction, in Tilmouth’s own voice. He takes the reader back to his earliest memories on Minjilang (Crocker Island) and makes reference to a particular dormitory ‘mother’ Lois Bartram.

It seems a passing reference, yet the very next voice on the same page is Bartram herself, remembering Tracker as a young boy. Her memories carry the reader for a couple of pages, before Tilmouth’s brothers pick up the narrative. 

It is a truly remarkable way to read a life – from many perspectives. It is this intricate layering of voices, the following of ‘an Aboriginal tradition of storytelling’, that is the triumph of this book.

As Wright claims “a Western-style biography would never do for Tracker.”

Tilmouth is a man whose lived experience connects the dormitories of Minjilang to the cattle stations of Central Australia to the fight against Jabiluka in Jabiru. A child of the Stolen Generations, who proved that life experience teaches you a thing or two, Tilmouth was a relentless advocate of Aboriginal rights.

In this way, Tracker is not only a personal story but also a political biography of Aboriginal affairs in the NT. It is not always glamorous, you feel Tilmouth’s frustration throughout and there is an overwhelming sense of lost opportunities. Much is still unresolved today. But it’s also what makes Tracker urgent and vital reading here and now. 

Don’t be put off by its size (it’s huge) because a multitude of voices need many pages! 

But don’t just take my word for it – Alexis Wright will share her reflections on the book at its launch with Francis Jupurrurla Kelly, Chair  of the Central Land Council. 

Book Launch THU 1 MAR | 5.30-7.30PM | NT LIBRARY | FREE | facebook.com/northernterritorylibrary

See the event listing.

Kate Rendell works as a Communications Manager in the arts. She is also a freelance writer and researcher. First and foremost though she is a reader.

Image of Alexis Wright courtesy of Vincent Long.

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